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John J. Raspanti
The Denver Broncos return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since last year's playoff loss. The result of the game (a 45-10 drubbing) convinced owner John Elway that he needed a new quarterback.
Enter Peyton Manning who signed a five-year, $96 million deal. Following some early season struggles, Manning found his grove in last weekends 37-6 rout of the Raiders. Unlike the Houston game, where Manning completed only half his throws, the 36-year-old connected on 30 of 38 passes for a season-high 338 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders barely touched Manning.
"The key that I've said all along is just trying to keep making progress somehow," Manning said. "That doesn't always show on the scoreboard."
Running back Willis MaGahee has rushed for 325 yards. Manning likes sure handed wide receiver Eric Decker (24 catches). Demaryius Thomas has scored twice and caught 21 balls.
The Patriots found themselves in a must-win position last week against the Buffalo Bills. They couldn't afford to lose their third game out of four. In the second half, their offense blew the game wide open. The final score was 52-28 as Tom Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 340 yards. Brady has only thrown one interception in the first four Patriot games. Wide receiver Brando Lloyd wants more consistency from the offense.
"We need to do a better job starting the game and that's what we're focused on," Lloyd said.
Second year running back Stevan Ridley has gained 339 yards for New England. Speedy Brandon Balden had a breakout game against the Bills (137 yards). His availability this weekend is questionable (knee injury). Though many consider him on the downside of his career, 31-year-old Wesley Welker is tied with Lloyd for the team lead in catches with 25. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has scored three touchdowns.
With Manning behind center, these two teams look to be very evenly matched. No reason this one won't be close down the stretch which has us taking the points in this one. There are still some +7's on the board but you'll have to lay -120 to get them. Broncos +7 -120.
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